IranAir Airbus A330, Frankfurt to Tehran, photo by Ali Torkzadeh,

Is Iran safe for tourists? (Part 3)

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Is Iran Safe for Tourists?

I welcome all the advice about whether Iran is safe for tourists even though I feel safe living in Iran and arrests of foreigners typically do not apply to tourists.

But it’s important to consider the source of the advice. Governments, for example, have a knack for advising against all travel. But I don’t blame them. I would do the same if I was a politician. I’ll explain below.

Take travel advisories on whether Iran is safe for tourists with a grain of salt

So why do the governments of some Western countries always advise against travel to Iran – always regardless of the state of relations with Iran.

The reason is same as why packages of even common medicine contain warnings against countless tragedies.

  1. Governments feel obliged to warn against everything that happened or could happen.
  1. Governments never ever acknowledge their citizens’ actual fault and place the entire blame on the unfriendly countries.

In Iran, arrests always “arbitrary” and “fabricated” diplomats say. Why?

I read news of arrests of foreigners with keen attention, because I have an interest in self-survival. But the more I read, the less I know because the diplomats quoted by the news media are more interested in strategy than the truth.

My guess is there’s a diplomatic strategy not to ever acknowledge wrongdoing by a citizen in trouble in an unfriendly country. Don’t ever give an inch, is the thinking.

Tens of thousands are arrested every year in some U.S. states for simple marijuana possession.

But when Texas basketball star Brittany Griner got nabbed, it was “unjust” and “wrongful”, Joe Biden said. Why? Because she was arrested in Russia.

Likewise, Iran always arrests “arbitrarily” and all charges are entirely “fabricated”, if you believe what the politicians say.

Diplomats would like you to believe that arrests in Iran go something like this:

“Mustafa, where is your infidel quota of the day?” asks the captain.

“Here she is, Sir,” says the underling. “Fresh one right off the sidewalk.”

“What are the charges?” asks the captain.

“She reminds me too much of my ex,” says the underling.

“That’s no good, Mustafa!” the captain retorts. “We’re supposed to arrest arbitrarily and charges have to be fabricated. You just told me the real reason you arrested her.”

“Of course, Sir. Let me correct my idiot self, your turbanship. I arrested her because … ummm … her teeth are gapped.”

“Splendid Mustafa,” the captain says. “Put her in the gapped-teeth wing. And as always, throw away the key .”

It took a reckless oaf like Boris Johnson to connect Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe to the training of journalists. Diplomats then immediately buried his statement with denials.

After his release last week, Danish vlogger Thomas Kjems acknowledged to BBC that “I did a few videos” of street riots. He did us a favor by punching a hole through the convenient denials of governments.

I’m not saying what Kjems and others went through was fair, that their treatment was proportional to their deeds, and they were not used as pawns.

I’m saying tourists in Iran aren’t arrested without reason and every charge is not fabricated.

Because the bullshit rains on every side. The diplomats’ loyalty is to the games of their profession over the subtleties of the truth, anyone researching travel safety in Iran should consider.

And, naturally, politicians prefer that you stay home. I would too if I had to cleanup after people who turn into riot vloggers in the middle of their tour of Iran.

Travel advisories warn against pretty much any travel to anywhere

There are warnings on travel to any friendly or unfriendly country on the globe.

There are countless warning about travel to the U.S. because of the gun thing. China and Japan even issued travel pamphlets on what to say when you’re about to be shot. 

But every other country on the planet is a subject of travel warnings that often sound identical.

Canada warns its citizens about the likelihood of terrorism in the UK (with a yellow exclamation icon):

Example of how country's warn against travel to even friendly countries. Screenshot from the government of Canada's website.
Screenshot from the government of Canada’s website about travel to UK.

The British return the favor by this warning (with a black exclamation icon): Terrorists are likely to try to carry out attacks in Canada.

Uk warns citizens about terrorism in canada 1
Screenshot of UK’s Gov.UK website about safety of travel to Canada.

Is Iran safe for tourists? Friends & family are primed to say no

If you make your travel decisions based on what friends and family say, you’ll probably never make it to Iran.

Lonely Planet’s book on Iran, 6th edition, 2012

Visceral fear of Iran is pretty much embedded in the Western psyche. Sarcastic reactions from friends and family – maybe even explosive anger – are to be expected. 

I myself – long ago lost track of all the negative reactions I’ve gotten when people hear I live here or I’m planning to fly back to Iran.

The Iran you experience in person is different

This is why some first-time Iran visitors are surprised upon arrival. They don’t expect the modern cities, the comfortable accommodations, the gracious hosts who bend over backwards to please, the strangers watching and smiling, even walking up to thank you for your visit. 

Most unexpected is how Western tourists are treated in the streets, almost like celebrities. Total strangers ask to do selfies! (Forgive them, please. They’re teens and young adults infatuated with the West, which is a very common theme here.)

I am so confused. It wasn’t supposed to be like this — of all the places, of all the countries, all the years of traveling, it’s here, in Iran, that I am greeted most warmly by total strangers.”

Anthony Bourdain on the 2014 Parts Unknown episode filmed in Iran

I think part of the mismatch between what we expect of Iran and its reality has to do with the ignorant impressions that we unknowingly develop about foreign people and places. I’ve been a victim, as I explain in Part 4 of this series >>.


Ali and Saeideh plan their Iran roadtrips from their home in Mashhad. More about us here >>

Other dioramas in the category of How to visit Iran


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